Feeder Wishes

Top Photo: Pine siskins at an older feeder here at museum, February 2013.

I’ve been waiting patiently for winter birds to show up at the feeders here at the museum. Oh, I’ve seen red-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, (it’s always good to see them each year) and of course, all the local characters, like chickadees, titmice, white-breasted and brown-headed nuthatches, and so on.

What I’m waiting to see is pine siskins and evening grosbeaks. Those two birds are irregular here in the piedmont. But, they’ve been reported widely throughout the state this fall. Just not at our feeders.

Pine siskin (February, 2015).

I’ve actually run into small flocks of siskins here at the museum two or three times this fall. But as far as I know they haven’t shown up at the feeders. We have a brand new thistle feeder waiting for them. The seed-eating, goldfinch-sized finches from the north have yet to try it out. The level of the seed hasn’t moved a milimeter since it was first filled and hung.

Red-breasted nuthatch.

Evening grosbeaks are a different game. Whereas I see siskins nearly every year (sometimes just one, some years hundreds. One winter, all I found were a few feathers from the wing of a siskin in the snow beneath the feeders) I haven’t seen an evening grosbeak in the state in nearly thirty years. I’ll admit, previous to this year, I haven’t been looking for them. Though, you can’t really look for evening grosbeaks, they show up when they show up, and then they’re gone.

White-throated sparrow.

The grosbeaks are fairly large and noisy birds, so when they stop in, or fly over, they grab your attention. Like cedar waxwings, their flocks wander the winter landscape seeking food. When they find it, they descend, devour, and depart.

Dark-eyed junco.

Evening grosbeaks nest in coniferous forests, both mature and second growth, and though their summer diet consists of caterpillars, aphids, and other insect larvae, they eat a wide variety of seeds. That includes black oil sunflower seeds which I have waiting for them should they decide to visit our feeders.

They’re social birds and can sometimes overwhelm a backyard feeder operation. I once had hundreds descend on my own backyard. They quickly emptied the feeders (I couldn’t fill them fast enough) and cleared the ground of any spilled seed. The next day, they were gone.

Male purple finch (Dec. 2016).
Fox sparrows typically show up at the feeders when the going gets rough (snow, ice, excessive cold).

I don’t have a picture of an evening grosbeak but there’s a nice photo of a male at Audubon’s site.

I hope they drop in on us.

2 responses to Feeder Wishes

  1. In April 2017 we had a Rose breasted grosbeak at our backyard feeder in the Northgate Park neighborhood. I’ve never seen one before or since. The pine siskins showed up here this year. It’s the first time in a few years. On Dec. 30th of this year, someone on our listserv reported a Painted Bunting sighting near the corner of Delafield and Elgin (right by the museum).

    • gregdodge
      gregdodge says:

      I keep seeing siskins daily, but not at the feeders. There’s still plenty of natural seed left on the trees and shrubs. They’re spending most of their time on sweetgum and groundsel tree.
      Yes, Delafield and Elgin is only yards away from our feeding station here at the museum. The painted bunting may have even visited our feeders. Of course, no one reported it as being seen here.

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